It's the height of beach season, "Jaws" is celebrating its 40th anniversary and reports of shark attacks are making headlines. So it's perfect timing for the onslaught of shark-related programming. Ratings superstar Discovery Channel's Shark Week launched July 5, as did Nat Geo Wild's SharkFest. And cue the "Jaws" soundtrack: "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!" premieres on SyFy July 22.
"Shark programming appeals to our most base instincts—literally going back to our hunter-gatherer phase," says Addison O'Dea, content director at Sub Rosa. "Watching the hunt, and the kill, is a rush. It is brilliant because it is so simple."
Simple, maybe. But how do newer fish compete with Shark Week? SharkFest and "Sharknado," a summer showstopper, rely heavily on word of mouth, reaching audiences through mobile marketing—whether it's through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, for example, or through apps or other means.
SharkFest was founded organically three years ago. "As Discovery aired Shark Week, our ratings actually increased over our normal average," says Andy Baker, senior VP-group creative director for National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD on his blog, theclientblog.com. "After a little investigating, we realized that viewers were likely watching SharkFest, but they actually thought they were watching the, um, competition ... it was just one of those interesting little accidents."
This year Nat Geo Wild made a hilarious ad to play off the confusion, luring viewers through TV and social media. In the ad, comedian Rory Scovel riffs, "We want you to confuse the two. And you will. And we don't care—because it gets us ratings." He closes with "SharkFest: It's on the same time as the other thing. On Nat Geo Wild."
"Both Nat Geo Wild and the Discovery Channel are now using funny ads and launching them online and on-air to create buzz way before the shark frenzy starts," says Billie Gold, VP-director of programming research at Dentsu Aegis Network's Carat. "It creates buzz and interest at the same time and gets people talking online."
The Nat Geo Wild ad, which ran on its own networks, was also distributed through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and blogs—Nat Geo has 6.7 million likes on Facebook, 781,000 YouTube subscribers and 426,000 Twitter followers, with many tweets about the shark events tagged both #sharkweek and #sharkfest.
"We're letting you in on the joke," says Brenda Freeman, exec VP-CMO at National Geographic Channel. "And without using hard media dollars, we've become part of the conversation in three years. In general, as new platforms become more common, we want to make sure we are using them."
Next up is the big scare of the summer: "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No," SyFy's B-movie shark-tacular with returning stars Ian Ziering, Tara Reid and Cassie Scerbo and new ones such as David Hasselhoff (#hoffnado) and Bo Derek—plus a lot of cameo appearances, including Ann Coulter, Jerry Springer and Anthony Weiner.
Along with social media—41,100 Twitter followers (@SharknadoSyfy), 89,000 Facebook likes and must-see trailers on YouTube—Sharknado has a fun phone app, Sharknado: Go Shark Yourself, which was supported by a "Sharknado 3" commercial. In it fans can insert themselves into scenes from the film, then share with their friends online—they a take a selfie and accessorize with whatever "Sharknado" items they want, from biting sharks and beach umbrellas to chain saws, pink flamingos and even blood spatters.
"The impact of an interactive branded app multiplies exponentially when the audience can incorporate themselves into it," Mr. O'Dea says. "We are moving softly into a society that expects that level of immersion and customization. The more control is ceded, whether at the distribution or marketing level, the more audiences will respond in the future, especially with programming like 'Sharknado.' "
Ms. Gold agrees: "Sharknado's mobile strategy is great. People who interact with their mobile devices for content tend to be younger and like to be on the cutting-edge. Doing something fun with pop culture makes it interactive and easy to share on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, helping the show's name go viral before it launches, thus creating even greater awareness."
If it weren't for social media, there probably wouldn't be a "Sharknado" trilogy. The first showing of "Sharknado" in 2013 didn't do nearly as well as the second running five days later. That one had all the social media attention that elevated it to blockbuster status—at one point during the telecast, 5,000 fans were tweeting, with celebs such as Mia Farrow ("OMG OMG"), Elisabeth Banks and Olivia Wilde joining the fun. "The first movie had very little marketing. They treated it like the regular Syfy TV movie," trilogy director Anthony C. Ferrante told TV Guide "Then it began gaining traction, and it blew up on the re-airings, it blew up Twitter. The thing that's wonderful about the first Sharknado is that people found us; we didn't force people to watch it. That is what makes it special."
Craig Engler, senior VP at @Syfy digital who runs the @Syfy account, told the official Twitter blog in 2013 that tweeting was essential for building interest in the networks films. "We know going in that people already love to tweet about these movies, so our goal is to foster the conversation and amplify it. For instance, we'll retweet fun posts from our viewers on the @Syfy feed, which the fans love. It gives them their 15 minutes of fame on Twitter and shows them that we're listening and playing along."
Social media and mobile efforts like this draw fans by getting them to actively participate with the "Sharknado" brand. "If you're more engaged to a show you'll come back to it," Ms. Gold says. "Recognition is half the battle."
Michael Engleman, exec VP-marketing, digital and global brand strategy of NBCUniversal Inc.'s Syfy and Chiller, explained the social strategy to the American Marketing Association in 2014: "We truly put the consumer at the center of our campaign and created a war chest of social assets that fans could customize. We seeded these assets over time, paid attention to what people liked and what they didn't, and constantly adjusted. One example was our Go Shark Yourself app, which was hugely successful. ... We try to give our fans the platforms and tools they need to engage with our brand as deeply as they choose."
And while Discovery and other networks have been using mobile to draw shark fans, in a strange twist, sharks are also using mobile—to drive people away. In an effort to prevent shark attacks, Australian government researchers tagged 338 sharks with acoustic transmitters that trigger tweets anytime one of the sharks swims within half a mile of a beach. Apparently, the researchers believe that mobile marketing will prove to be a win-win for everyone.
Thursday: Jumping Into the Mobile Marketing Waters
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